The Pros and Cons of Working for a Startup

Artist in start up business studio


By Hannah Morgan

You say you want the thrill and excitement of working for a startup, but is there more to it than that? Working for a startup can be a career-building experience and a training ground for your entrepreneurial dreams. There is, however, a dark side to the allure of startup culture.

You may have heard stories that make startups sound like the wild, Wild West: exciting, fast-paced environments where there a few rules. There's also something attractive about the camaraderie that happens while working as part of a small, committed team. It may look like a sweet package on the outside until you see the underbelly of the startup beast.

Startup advantages:

Working for a startup is one of the best experiences for those considering starting a business themselves. You'll have the opportunity to do it all. You'll feel pride and ownership for the work you do and the company you do it for.

You may have direct access to the founder or CEO, given the size and lack of hierarchy in the company. Increased visibility can also be a good thing, if you are doing a great job. It is up to you to self-advocate, given the lack of managers and supervisors within the typical startup.

Seeing the company you work for succeed can be incredibly satisfying and is one reason many people are attracted to these types of opportunities.

But there are drawbacks as well:

Time: The number of hours you need to put in can become grueling after a while. In the beginning, you may feel the rush of adrenaline the first few times you need to stay late to solve a problem. Plus, you probably feel valuable, knowing you are one of the few charged with keeping that part of the business running smoothly. But how will you feel after nine months? Will you still enjoy the burden of working on weekends and every waking hour of the day? In startups, there is often no time clock or recognition for working overtime. It is an expectation rather than an exception.

Smart leaders will recognize the potential for crashing and burning, but there is only so much a limited staff can do. You might take the initiative to begin cross-training employees on your job and learning other jobs yourself in order to share the burden.

Workload: There may be times when you feel like there aren't enough hours in the day to get everything done. Startups operate lean and mean. With the minimum number of employees and resources necessary to run the business, everyone is expected to pitch in to keep the company afloat. The plus side is that you'll pick up some new skills and learn a lot about other areas of the business.

To help regain some of your time, research tools and processes that may streamline your work, and learn tips from other startups.

Responsibility: If the company's leader decides to delegate, you may feel like you are running your own company. Conversely, the startup founder may have very specific ideas about how to run the organization and not allow much independent thinking. In this case, you may feel like a robot. One thing is for sure: You will be doing more than the job you signed on for. It won't be unusual for you to take on a sales role, answer incoming calls or even clean the bathroom. Pitching in is a necessary job requirement.

You may feel like saying "that's not my job," but that type of attitude isn't going to fly very well. And if you are expecting praise or a shoutout for working long hours, you'll be disappointed. Getting the job done at all cost is an expectation of your job.

Money: Starting pay at startups isn't usually the main attraction. Funding is generally tight and invested in the business's growth. Even if you directly contribute to the company's expansion or growth, yourrequest for a raise is not guaranteed. Ultimately, it's the vision of the founder and his or her priorities that determines pay increases. If the expectation is that everyone pitch in and work long hours, it will be difficult for you to justify your request for more money based on how hard you've been working.

To learn ahead of time how your new boss feels about financial compensation, probe during the interview by asking questions about how performance will be rewarded. If the startup has been in business awhile, you may also ask about how top performing employees were rewarded.

Hannah Morgan writes and speaks on career topics and job search trends on her blog Career Sherpa. She is the author of "The Infographic Résumé" and co-author of "Social Networking for Business Success."

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